Though his dishes once occupied the white-linen tablecloths of Philadelphia’s finest restaurants, Chef Gerald Dougherty now prefers making napkins messy with his signature recipes of rich, meaty barbecue fare. The former head chef of L'Aigla D'Or and Founders at the Bellevue, Chef Gerald currently oversees the pit at Little Louie's BBQ, a casual eatery he opened to satisfy his hankering for down-home grub. Not one to color within the lines, he draws on barbecue styles from across the country—think North Carolina, Kansas City, and Memphis—and smokes his meats over cherrywood, applewood, and hickory chips.
Little Louie’s dining room betrays the same down-home inspirations as its menu. Rustic lumber lines the countertops, and light fixtures reminiscent of branches illuminate the expansive space. If they can peel their eyes away from the beef brisket and pulled pork on their plates, guests will notice Butch Cassidy and Lone Ranger posters hanging from the walls, classic Western movies playing on the 70-inch flat-screen television, and outlaws discreetly taking down Wanted signs that bear their uncanny resemblances.
At Sapori Trattoria Italiana, Chef Franco Lombardo celebrates the flavors of his native Italy, and every inch of his restaurant reflects his vision for an authentic trattoria: he designed the dining room himself, from its stone walls to its wrought-iron balconies. Within this rustic, terra-cotta-hued space, Chef Lombardo plates traditional Northern and Southern Italian cuisine. If diners choose to partake in a “tasting dinner,” they’ll be treated to a visit from the chef himself, who’ll examine the shape of each diner’s taste buds and then tailor a five-course menu to suit them. Otherwise, diners can choose from an ample menu of pastas, seared meats, and sautéed seafood enhanced with fresh, all-natural ingredients—the veal is grass-fed, the seafood is never frozen, and pastas are rolled from scratch.
With outposts in Moorestown, Voorhees, and Collingswood, Akira is one of New Jersey's go-to spots for sushi, noodles, and grilled hibachi meals. Chefs behind the sushi bar expertly assemble rice, fresh fish, and vegetables into maki rolls and hand rolls, while their counterparts behind the hibachi grill put on a performance for diners by searing meats and seafood. The hibachi side of the restaurant gets lively with conversation and jumping flames, making it a festive venue for group dinners and pyromancer parties.
The menu at Knight's Bistro is decidedly unselfish—its large plates of Italian food encourage the sharing of covetous bites. Diners break off pieces from large specialty pizzas decorated in eggplant cutlets or pass the bruschetta and one of four stuffed shells brimming with ricotta cheese to their neighbor. Plates overflow with pastas dressed in one of eight sauces sopped up by housemade rolls.
Families pass these bites back and forth beneath golden cone-shaped lamps that hang above the restaurant's diner-style booths. The staff permits diners to bring their own libations from home, an easier way to facilitate social dining than forcing people to drink from an eight-pronged crazy straw. Weekly dinner specials also play into the convivial theme: Tuesday nights feature classic clambakes with crab legs, lobster claws, and other seafood, whereas Mondays consolidate a large pizza and four soft drinks under a single price.
Voted the Best Coffee Shop by Philadelphia Magazine, The Treehouse Coffee Shop has grown a loyal following with its comfy atmosphere and exquisite coffee made with beans purportedly grown on the roof. Caffeine cravers can choose from the shop's eclectic selection of java, including the dark Indonesian-grown Sumatra blend, roasted by the regional Crescent Moon Coffee Company. Aside from a potent cup of coffee ($1.45–$2.25), the rest of the menu features stress-quelling teas ($1.30–$1.60), frozen mochas ($4.05–$4.55) from the espresso bar, and scrumptious sandwiches such as the focaccia-bread chicken panini ($7). The Treehouse Coffee Shop completes its community-friendly image with open mic nights on Wednesday and traditional Irish music on Thursdays—a pleasant departure from typical coffee house entertainment such as yelling men and magazines without pictures.
El Sitio's chefs parade a vibrant menu of dishes from Ecuador, Peru, and Argentina across visiting palates. The lomo manchego, a grass-fed sirloin medallion stuffed and drizzled with manchego cheese ($26), is served on a stone plate designed to maintain warmth long enough for forks to tap out blissful sonnets in Morse code. Patrons can lick their plates clean after romping through staple dishes such as the sliced octopus covered in black-olive sauce ($9.25) or a sampler of empanadas, tequeños, and calamari ($11.50). Dine indoors beneath lime-green and marigold walls bathed in varietal lighting, or let the wind blow through your eyelashes while noshing on shrimp in an ivory mantle of coconut sauce ($17) on the patio. El Sitio's BYOB policy allows diners to bring along a bottle of wine, six-pack of beer, or bedazzled personal juicer.